More ramblings and free-associations: ‘ignorance’

[Update: I have to say that after re-reading this post I am quite embarrassed by all the grammatical mistakes and misspellings. I know that I state clearly that I will not be all that concerned about good grammar and spelling, since this is really just a place for me to dump my thoughts, but there are times when my lack of diligence is just plain embarrassing. I am a terrible proof reader! This is why I will never be a writer or why my opinions won’t carry much weight. Oh well…]
I’m not really sure how to deal with this question, assertion, or quandary about the ‘ignorance’ of so many Americans. The American Heritage Dictionary defines ‘ignorance’ as: The condition of being uneducated, unaware, or uninformed. ‘Ignorance’ in-and-of-itself is not the real issue, because most people in the world do not want to be and if given the chance would not be lacking in knowledge. This is something of a different sort – a willful not-knowing.
Perhaps ‘ignorance’ isn’t the right word. Perhaps a better word is ‘sciolism’ (n : pretentious superficiality of knowledge). We Americans, in general, suffer from willful ‘sciolism.’
I say ‘Americans’ specifically because this type of ignorance/sciolism – almost willful and applied – seems to be a characteristic of Americans, particularly. I have had the privilege of knowing and working with people from many different cultures and countries because of my work in campus ministry, higher education, and because of my time working in Europe. This is touchy, I know, because the people I’ve encountered from other cultures and countries do not represent every compatriot of theirs. It is touchy, too, because I’ve witnessed these same kinds of attitudes among people in other countries. Yet, I have not found this same general attitude of non-engagement with or unwillingness to consider different ideas among other nationalities that seems to be so prominent among Americans – or at least with large portions of American society. I’ve had to defend Americans (embarrassingly so) and stressed the need to truly understand the vastness of this country between two oceans with a generally uniform culture, history, and language.
This matters to me because I love what my country ideally stands for, despite the current distortions. In addition, because I am a Christian my way of thinking must pull me outside this particular American cultural context in which I was raised/formed and now live.
Maybe we could throw in a little ‘philistinism’ in the mix: (n : a desire for wealth and material possessions with little interest in ethical or spiritual matters [syn: materialism]). For 95% of Americans to say, “I believe in God,” is a very different kind of thing than 95% of the people doing anything about their belief or knowing what-in-the-world they even mean by it – regardless of whether they go to church or not.
Far too many of us whether we are conservative or liberal only want to gather around ourselves teachers who will scratch our itching ears. Too many of us who proclaim to be ‘Christian’ do not read or consider the arguments of those with whom we disagree, and when confronted with evidence that challenges our current beliefs we simply reject that evidence out-of-hand. 2 Timothy 4:3 – “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
I find it interesting that this is a favorite accusation among ‘conservative Christians’ against ‘liberal Christians.’ Yet, my experience has shown me that ‘conservative Christians’ are less likely to be engaged with those with whom they disagree than are more progressive Christians, often because they fear that if they read or consider ideas contrary to their perspective that Satan will deceive them and they will lose their standing with God and fellow believers. Generally, there is not a seeking of Truth, but a seeking of that which confirms what they already believe – or, frankly, what they want to believe regardless of the veracity of their position. Whether a correct or incorrect perception, this has been my experience of American Christianity – conservative and liberal. Anyway…
Most of those I know who profess to be practicing Jews or Muslims know a whole lot more about their faith, its history, and their scriptures than a many Christians I have encountered, including me.
There are Americans who are ignorant of many things for a variety of reasons, and this does not have to be pejorative. If given the opportunity, they would rectify their lack of understanding or knowledge. What I am talking about is something of a different sort that seems to have infected American culture. It is an anti-intellectualism that has contaminated students, for example, who believe it simply isn’t cool to want to learn or know much of anything. What I see in many Americans today (!) is a willful non-interest in anything other than themselves and what they want to believe to be true.
This has dire affects on our foreign policy, on our safety and standing in the world, on our ability to realize, admit, and rectify our mistakes and wrong doings, on our ability to compete in a changing world, on the demand that our politicians and leaders lead wisely, and whether we as a culture and a people will continue to prosper. We cannot have a democracy without an informed and educated citizenry. We cannot exercise positive leadership in the world if the positions we take and our actions in the end cause more harm and hardship than good. There is a disconnect between what we want to believe of ourselves and our actions and the reality of it all. In the competition of ideas and world-views, if ours lead to nothing more than the imposition of position rather than the encouragement of that which betters those with whom we are engaged, then we will lose – as we should.